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Natural Law, human morality, and self-interest in Leland vs. Bolingbroke: A centuries-old discussion that remains relevant today

leland-viewJohn Leland’s (1691-1766) epic takedown of Henry St. John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke’s (1678-1751) argument for natural law from a deistic perspective as found in Leland’s A View of the Principal Deistical Writers That Have Appeared in England in the Last and Present Century (available free online) is a wonder to behold. Leland’s work is a massive 2-Volume tome that basically surveys the entire field of the deistic controversy in the 18th century and provides not just an overview of the deists’ writings, but also response to them and extensive commentary on other written responses. In other words, the book is probably the single most valuable contemporary account of the deistic controversy that was written.

Leland deals extensively with Bolingbroke and engages nearly every part of Bolingbroke’s argument for deism. Here, I want to highlight one passage from Leland’s account:

Those may justly regard universal benevolence as a fundamental law of our nature, who suppose a social principle, and a benevolent disposition, distinct from self-love, to be an original disposition, natural to the human heart, and implanted by the Author of our beings; but if self-love be, as [Lord Bolingbroke] represents it, the only original spring of human actions, and the centre of the whole system, universal benevolence cannot be properly represented as the fundamental law of our nature. Upon this scheme the private interest of the individual, whenever it happens to come in competition with the public good, ought to be preferred.

The relevance of this very argument to modern debates over morality, particularly on atheistic schema, is immediately apparent. Without God, in a universe sans not just creation but also sans design, sans lawgiver, etc., it seems self-interest is really the only possible “ought” to be found. But if that is the case, why not acknowledge that morality in the best interest of “all” or “the group” is at best a fiction? Let’s not be mistaken; many atheists do acknowledge exactly that. But there remain holdouts, certain that a framework for discovering morality.

As Leland notes, however, it would be very difficult to get around the notion that without some kind of divine law or lawgiver, self-interest seemingly must become the basis for morality. Indeed, though Leland lived before Darwin, it would seem that non-theistic evolution would suggest this as well: self-preservation and the passing on of one’s genes as the greatest good. But if that is the case, it becomes clear that no matter how lofty our expectations or claims about morality become, when it comes down to it, self-interest will be the final arbiter of morality. If that is the case, then it becomes difficult to maintain that universal benevolence or some other good could be actually attainable on such a system.

Perhaps a counter-argument could be that we could set the goal at universal benevolence, but acknowledge the failings of the system. But if that is the case, it seems the failings of the system itself–allowing self-preservation/interest to be the true ultimate arbiter of morality–decries the system. The goal would become “universal benevolence, so long as it does not impede my self-interest” and that seems to be a very problematic way to view morality. Of course, one could simply bite the bullet and acknowledge this as the best possible moral system to offer without God. So be it.

Links

Historical Apologetics– Check out all my posts on historical apologetics.

For more reading on the psychological studies behind spanking, see Psychology Today as well as the summary article linked above (or here).

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Jesus, the Demon-Possessed Man, and Christology- Luke 8:26-39

A recent reading in church struck me because I’ve been in conversations with some who deny the deity of Christ of late. The reading was from Luke 8. Verses 38-39 are what caught my attention:

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (NIV).

Did you catch that? Jesus says “tell how much God has done for you.” How does the man respond? By telling what Jesus had done for him. The text goes to a different story immediately after this. There is no correction of the man’s behavior or any implication that the man did the wrong thing. Jesus tells him to speak of what God has done, and he obeys by telling what Jesus had done. Who, then, is Jesus?

One may respond by saying that Jesus is the means by which God healed the man. Thus, it was proper for the man to speak of Jesus without implying that Jesus is God. However, this misses the crucial linking of the terminology: the parallelism in “how much God has done for you” with “how much Jesus had done for him” is quite clear in both the English translation and the Greek original. This parallelism does not suggest any kind of difference between the two, or some kind of intermediary in between the two.

Thus, it appears that here in Luke we have a subtle acknowledgement of the deity of Christ.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Manual of Christian Evidences” – Fisher Chapter 6 Guided Reading

All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

I am leading a guided reading of the Manual of Christian Evidences by George Park Fisher. It is freely available online and will serve as a base for discussing Christian apologetics throughout this series. The chapters are short and readable. I encourage you to join in by reading the chapters and commenting with your thoughts. When I discuss the book, I will be citing page numbers from the edition linked above.

Chapter 6

Once again we see that Fisher’s time is quite different from our own in many ways, as he notes that “No one doubts that the Gospels contain a great deal that is true about the life and teaching of Christ” (37). All kinds of people doubt that now, but that doesn’t do much to undermine Fisher’s apologetic in this section. Here are some of the highlights.

Fisher notes that Jesus continually tried to retire to solitary places, and that he commanded others not to report the miracles done by him. “No one can reasonably question that these injunctions not to report miracles were uttered by him. There is no motive that could account for the invention of them, especially since it is added that they were disregarded” (38). This seems to be clearly the case. Why invent the notion that Jesus gave commands that were immediately disobeyed? It doesn’t fit the narrative of the alleged myth of Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus went on to caution against “excessive esteem of miracles,” which would undercut any reason for inventing accounts of the miraculous to begin with. Too often, people argue that the miraculous in Jesus’ account demonstrates that it must be myth (here not using myth in the technical sense, but in the sense of “untrue”). But if these miracles were invented to show how great Jesus is, why have Jesus caution against exactly that interpretation, and why have Jesus ask people not to spread stories about them?

Another interesting point Fisher makes is that no miracles are attributed to John the Baptist, despite this man’s importance in testifying for Jesus. He asks, “If there had been a dispoistion to make up stories of miracles that did not occur, why is not John credited with works of a like nature?” (40). After all, if John’s testimony was so important–and it clear that it was–and miracles were allegedly invented to highlight the importance of Jesus and others, why does John not have any attributed to him? The only answers to these questions will be ad hoc–invented to try to avoid the questions asked.

The notion that miracles were invented in these narratives is difficult to defend under scrutiny. These and other points Fisher makes in this brief chapter are powerful.

Questions

Do you think that it is true that Jesus’ commands not to tell anyone about his miracles must be genuine? What other explanations might be possible? What evidence might go against other explanations?

What purpose do the miracles seem to have when you re-read the accounts?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Qur’an in Context” by Mark Robert Anderson

Mark Robert Anderson takes on a monumental task in his book The Qur’an in Context: providing an overview of the Qur’an without divorcing it from its own context, all while setting it alongside Christian beliefs and critiques. The long and short of it is that he succeeds masterfully at this task.

First, Anderson explores the cultural context of the Qur’an, exploring, briefly, the life of of Muhammad and his context. Then, chapters exploring aspects of the worldview within the Qur’an go over such topics as Adam, Sin, God’s Immanence, etc. A whole section is dedicated to the Quranic view of Jesus, and the book ends with a Christian evaluation of the Qur’an. I can’t really emphasize enough how important every single chapter is. Within each chapter, Anderson skillfully and fairly presents the picture the Qur’an puts forward on the topic, often giving some additional context for the discussion. Then, there is often some Christian evaluation within the chapter itself, though much is deferred to the final section. This makes the book absolutely necessary for any Christian interested in learning about Islam and the teachings of Muhammad.

It is clear that Anderson has done his homework, and I was enlightened multiple times on aspects of Quranic theology that I hadn’t picked up on before. For example, in the section on Immanence in the Qur’an, I discovered that the theism of Islam doesn’t always portray Allah as the kind of separate, wholly removed from the world deity I had thought before. Instead, like in Christianity, the Quranic God is shown to be active in creation and working with people to bring about ends, despite also having absolute sovereignty and control. These kinds of details are found on almost every page, and make the book a great reference.

The Qu’ran in Context is now my go-to recommendation for Christians looking to learn about the Qur’an. It can be paired with a number of other books to get a more complete picture of Islam in general, but Anderson’s work can stand on its own as an exploration to dialogue with Muslims and their Scripture.

The Good

+Generous perspective regarding Muslim approaches to their own Scripture
+Takes seriously differences between Christians and Muslims
+Offers contextual basis for understanding the Qu’ran
+Extremely valuable summaries and interaction

The Bad

-Nothing to complain about means I mostly have to leave this row blank

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan Trilogy”- Justice, War, and Love

Beautiful insert art from "Goliath," the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Beautiful insert art from “Goliath,” the third book in the Leviathan Trilogy.

Scott Westerfeld is an extremely popular author of young adult literature. I recently dived into his “Leviathan Trilogy,” a series that tells an alternate history of World War I as steampunk. What is steampunk? Well… it’s hard to sum up, but for those not in the know, check out Wikipedia’s description. In this alternate history, the powers that split the world are aligned as either Clanker (using machinery, guns, and the like) or Darwinist (using genetically modified creatures to do battle). There will be SPOILERS for the series in what follows.

 Honor and Nationalism

The series begins with Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, the son of the Archduke in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, being spirited away at night because people who do not want him to have any chance of becoming the Emperor are after him. Count Volger is one of those who have conspired to whisk him away. Volger’s character is interesting because although he is portrayed as largely unlikable from the perspective of Alek [Prince Aleksander], he is one of the most honorable characters in the series.

Volger acts as a kind of moral voice, but one which is strongly tied to nationalism. Volger’s honor provides a framework for Alek to learn from, and he does so spectacularly when he acts rightfully to stop a potential mass destruction later in the series (see below regarding Tesla). However, Volger is not infallible, and his moral compass appears to be inherently tied to what is good for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and what he perceives is good for Alek. This is in contrast to a wider, broader vision of moral action which would allow for self-critique on a national level as well. Volger at points seems to see how his moral/nationalist vision puts him at odds with what he thinks is right and wrong, but his commitment to that system makes it difficult for him to get beyond it.

Even if the reader thinks Volger is wrong, however, the honor he shows throughout the novels is something to be admired. The way that he acts selflessly at multiple points throughout the trilogy is noteworthy, and sets a strong moral example throughout the books. Again, this is interesting because from the narrator’s (Alek’s) perspective, Volger sometimes seems an insufferable grouch. However, Alek ultimately realizes the goodness of Volger, much to his own benefit.

These reflections lead naturally to a kind of self-examination for those who tend to think of their own nation in exceptionalist terms. Although exceptionalism is not, in and of itself, a moral wrong, it can very easily lead to the pervasive, systematic injustice. Volger’s character allows readers to examine this kind of thinking in a fictional setting, which makes it safer to think about while still engaging the reader on a deep level.

War and Justice

A central aspect of the trilogy as it plays out over an alternate World War I is the unity and disunity between the concepts of war and justice. In Leviathan, Great Britain seems to enter the war purely due to some perceived obligation–it doesn’t want to see the “Clankers” win. By the time we get to the third book, however, the depth of the discussion is much greater. Tesla has apparently developed a weapon capable of wiping out entire cities. Is it just to use such a weapon to bring an immediate end to the war, if that means sacrificing millions of lives to save tens of millions?

Thus, there are numerous questions about war and justice raised throughout the series. Some of these remain open questions–such as whether Great Britain in this example was right to wage war–while others are explored more thoroughly. One of these is Tesla’s attempt to use a weapon that allegedly can destroy entire cities. When he attempts to do so, Alek rushes to stop him, resulting in Tesla’s death. Here we see an act that might normally be considered a wrong–causing the death of another (though the moral status of its intent is something worth contemplating as well)–ends up being, ostensibly, a good. Ironically, Tesla’s weapon did not actually have the power he thought it did.

Male Privilege

Deryn Sharp has to pretend to be a boy in order to pursue a dream of serving in the air force of Great Britain. The subtle criticisms of male privilege found throughout the series is worth commenting on. One wonders whether we have actually overcome some of the clear biases against the capabilities of women that are mentioned throughout the Leviathan Trilogy. For example, resistance to women as firefighters, police officers, and the like persists in our time.

Conclusion

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy is a thought-provoking set of novels. It is also a beautiful story of love and adventure, with wonderful illustrations found throughout. It’s the best kind of story: one that makes you think.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Eclectic Theist– My other interests site is full of science fiction, fantasy, food, sports, and more random thoughts. Come on by and check it out!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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